I just finished a book titled “Digital Minimalism, Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.” by Cal Newport. The book is about how the world of smartphones, social media, and other online distractions that have captured our attention and kept us away from deeper more meaningful experiences in life.
In the book, one of the topics discussed is the fact that we no longer have any quiet time in our lives. Lack of solitude, time to be alone and think, has a great impact on our work as early childhood educators. In an always-connected world, we never take time to be alone with our thoughts. During most of our waiting moments in life, the smartphone provides a distraction from the perceived boredom of an idle mind.
In early childhood education, we work in an environment of emotional labor. This is an environment that is always stimulating and busy with many demands on our emotions and energy. This is the great part of our work, the action, variety, and all the new things we learn about others and ourselves. Our work by its nature has a cost that is similar to the experience of the smartphone. Educators rarely have a time when we are removed from demands on our attention.
One solution to this condition is to take a break from our busyness and practice being in solitude. This state of being quiet and alone with our thoughts can be a beneficial practice for early childhood educators. Here are a few reasons why.
Practicing solitude helps us to clear our mind, refocus, and re-energize. In a profession that is constantly busy, taking small solitude breaks will provide a buffer to the multitasking nature of our work and help us focus more intentionally when we are in the presence of the children.
The practice of being quiet and thinking on our own helps us as educators connect more deeply in the classroom, be more creative with our work, and enhances our problem-solving skills. A solitude practice prepares us to work through the many challenges that we encounter during the day.
A solitude practice helps us as educators reduce the stress that builds in our lives as we engage in emotional labor. When we take time alone to deconstruct and decompress the happenings of the day, we gain perspective as our perceptions of circumstances in our work become clear and understood, making us happier and creates more life satisfaction.
By practicing solitude we get to know ourselves better and this enhances our collaboration with others. Much of our work is comprised of connections with children, parents, and other educators. This is rewarding, meaningful, and tiring work for the mind. Taking time to be alone and clear the mind makes our time with others more satisfying and productive.
In our busy work as educators, how often does the thought of being tired come into our thought process? In the heat of the action we are energized, but after arrives a downtime in the day and we feel exhausted from engaging in emotional labor. By practicing solitude we gain the same benefits of actually napping by taking just a little time out of our day to be quiet, alone, and re-energize.
When we practice solitude on a regular basis we become better at facing problems and coming up with creative solutions. Often we cannot find answers to challenging problems because our mind is too cluttered with information for the pathways of experience to blend our knowledge into creative patterns of thinking. Being quiet with our thoughts will help enhance this process.
Educator’s work in a busy environment and it is often hard to remember all of the tasks we want to get done in a day. The who, what, when, where, and why of our work can become overwhelming at times. Practicing solitude can help increase our memory capacity. As we learn to quiet the mind then our mind is free to focus on the tasks that we find important and want to remember.
Finally, as we unclutter our mind and take more time to practice solitude we become more perceptive of the environment around us. Our ability to sense, think and act as early childhood educators becomes more thoughtful and precise as we develop our skill to be present and in tune with what is happening in the world around us.
I know many of us will feel too busy and feel we do not have time to be alone. This is an important skill for people who work in emotional labor to practice. Here are a few suggestions on how to incorporate a solitude practice into your life. Some practices take more time than others, pick the one that fits into your current lifestyle, and enjoy the benefits.
Less Connectivity Online – The more time we spend online engaging with social media, apps, and games takes away from the time we could be engaging in a practice that will help our professional and personal lives. Engagement online is the opposite of a solitude practice. Changing the balance between your online life and quiet time will increase your ability to focus, be calm, and act with intention.
Take a Walk – Walking is a good exercise for practicing solitude. Walking is a time to be in nature, connect with the sensory experience of the outdoors, and listen to the voice of your heart. The spirit inside us, our true self, wants to talk with us but cannot because of the constant noise in our personal and professional lives. Take a walk, leave your phone at home, and enjoy the tranquility.
A Lunch of One – Earlier, I mentioned that solitude could have the same benefits as taking a nap. Lunch is one of the areas in our workday where we can employ a solitude practice. It is nice to have lunch with colleagues and catch up on our personal and professional lives, but it is also beneficial to take a few days per week or on days where our work is really challenging and have lunch alone. Taking time to eat alone, outside on a nice day, or in a quiet corner of the school allows us to gain perspective, re-energize, and re-focus for the remainder of our day.
Get Up Early Before the World Begins – Many of us lead busy lives. We would love to engage in a solitude practice and can see the benefits, but when? I have no time. One of the best times to engage with solitude is before the world comes alive. Starting your day just a little bit earlier than the rest of the world is wonderful. The house is quiet and you can take time to think and dream in the peace of dawn. In addition, taking a walk to think is also very peaceful in the early morning.
Meditate –Many people practice solitude through meditation. Our busyness creates a constant dialogue in our heads. This running story can be a distraction not only to our work but our enjoyment of life. Practicing meditation helps us to calm, accept the running thoughts of our mind, and regain focus on the present where true life actually happens.
These are a few ideas for you to try as you begin a solitude practice. I would encourage you to think about adopting some form of quiet practice. The benefits to us who work in the field of emotional labor are great. We will have better connections to the children, parents, and other educators in our school environment and create better connections to our own wants and needs. All we need to do is take a little time away from the distractions of life, enjoy some quiet, and listen. I have heard it said that silence is golden. It may be the golden ticket to enhancing our work with children.